For me, there are some seriously rotten things happening now, and some genuinely hopeful things as well — both in far more extreme degree than in a long time — and I can’t really talk about either of them except in the tiniest of metonymies.

Full moon, shining bright and pale across the ice. Tink and Zeugma, prospective mousers, spending the night away from home, and this cold house wind-rattled and empty except for me.

I feel, in Strand’s words,

And weird. The shivers
Wash over
Me, shaking my bones, my loose ends
And I lie sleeping with one eye open,

but that’s where I have to cut the quotation. I know what I hope, and it’s not for nothing.

Black Watch

So it’s four o’clock in the morning and I just got back from the absolute best piece of theater I’ve ever seen in my life. Tonight was the penultimate night of the National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch at St. Ann’s in Brooklyn, and my date and I were amazed. Brilliant, far more physical than any other play I’ve seen, and an amazing combination of soldier humor, startling violence, and pathos. Parts of it were shocking, and parts of it made my eyes tear up a bit, and by the end, hearing that bagpipe-and-drum tattoo made something tighten in my chest. Reader, if you haven’t seen it, hope for an encore tour. See it, see it, see it.

Part of the reason it caught my attention was the intersection of matters military with my family’s Scottish heritage, which is a distant link, certainly (and one roundly mocked in the play), but there was also the memory of being very, very young and having the vinyl “Black Watch War Pipe and Plaid” as one of my parents’ albums that I loved the most, with — again — that bagpipe-and-drum tattoo. It stirs the blood.

And after the play ended, as snowy and cold as the Brooklyn weather was, I was lucky to have such an extraordinarily pretty woman on my arm. It was a good date.

Best Costume

I love Highland Falls on Halloween. I love the little kids with their parents who come early, while it’s still light out, including the absolute tiniest witch I’ve ever seen, with her even littler brother the spider.

(Halloween etiquette question, perhaps related to an implicit writing-teacher-etiquette question for those who work in computer labs: when you distribute candy and talk to the shorter kids, do you stoop, squat, or neither?)

And I love the big families and groups who come later, after the parade, sometimes with not-quite-finished or uncertain costumes, and how watchful and careful they are of their family members and friends, and how friendly. How connected.

And I love the last few after-eight waves of various diehards (including the no-costume dad who always asks for candy too, but I was a little worried that he was drunk this year: not cool) and teenage goths.

But this year’s absolute best, and most mystifying: at about 6:50, a skinny eight- or nine-year old boy, all in black, with a black felt western-style hat (think Stetson), black domino, and a big scythe.


You win, kid. I didn’t even have the presence of mind to ask.

The Weight

Started coughing September 19. Saw the doc September 24: tentative diagnosis of pneumonia. Chest x-ray confirmed it September 26. Medicated, slept, sick leave. Back to work October 6. Out of breath, easily winded. I’m moving like John McCain. Can’t take stairs. Saw the doc again today: second x-ray October 8 showed the gunk in my left lung had shrunk from the size of a fist to the size of a walnut.

So all this week, people at work have been saying, “Wow, Mike. You look like you lost 20 pounds.” Sure, I say to myself: I know my eyes and cheeks are a little sunken, but I’ve been eating. Soup and fruit, mostly, but hearty stuff too. Eating regularly, three a day. So I get on the scale.

Yeah. Holy shit. I’m down 22 pounds in two weeks.

Surreal Anxieties

I’ve been sick the past few days, with what feels like the bronchitis my office mate had for the past two weeks: joint and bone and muscle aches, a rasp in the chest that’s blossoming into a productive cough, digestive yuckiness, and a pervasive droopy-lidded tiredness. So in between fits of grading, I’ve been drinking lots of juice and water, and trying to sleep as much as I can.

But that sleep’s been punctuated by whatever various symptoms waking me up, and also the bizarre half-asleep dreams about work: I’ve been absolutely certain that when I park down by the Hudson and walk up to my office, policy mandates that I investigate whether there are any fresh seafood vendors (on the Hudson?) at the Army’s South Dock, and if so, that I purchase and bring up an assortment for the Department and fill out a slip to be reimbursed. Or that rather than using the web and email to assist classroom instruction, I need to make myself a part of the growing circulating pool of cell phones in use by cadets for one-to-one communication with teachers, and that in order to do so effectively, I’ll have to set aside a significant portion of my monthly budget to add my own set of circulating cell phones to the pool. Or that I’ll mention the Kairos special issue I’m co-guest-editing to my cadets, and offer an example of the types of webtexts we’re looking for, and the cadets will communicate that to the Department, who will take said example as a promise of scholarship to be accomplished within the coming year, so I’ll set aside several hours to write a quick-and-dirty Disputatio piece, and Cheryl will like it so much (my anxieties, unfortunately, aren’t modest) that she’ll insist I write several such pieces for each issue.

Which would all be funny in their ridiculousness — fish, cell phones, mandatory Disputatio — except that for five or six hazy half-awake muddled minutes, I’ll be quite sure that I need to figure out a plan to address these tasks before I go to work the next day, and I’ll fall asleep trying to figure out which buildings the seafood vendors are hiding behind.

Fifth of July

I took the train into Manhattan yesterday and spent as fine a day as I’ve had in NYC in a long, long time.

It began inauspiciously, though, with the called-for rain starting almost immediately as my companion and I set out up Lexington Avenue. I’d brought along a $2 umbrella from a previous soaked visit to Brooklyn, but it wasn’t cutting it for the two of us, so I’m now the owner of two cheap disposable umbrellas. (::shrugs::) We meandered over and to and through Central Park and wound up at SummerStage in time for a set by Apollo Heights, who — for all the Cocteau Twins Mos Def TV on the Radio hype and indie music journalism love — completely sucked live. I mean, I get what they’re trying to do, and think it’s cool — wall of guitars meets soul-style vocal harmonies, or what some folks are calling shoegaze-derived Afrogaze — but the way they did it in performance was crappy piercing painful feedback for feedback’s sake and sounded nothing like their studio singles. In terms of musical genre, they’re loose cousins to TV on the Radio, who I like a lot, but with less polished vocals, and a guitar sound that can probably trace its lineage back through (very) early Catherine Wheel and Jesus and Mary Chain to the live portion of Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma. But still: when there’s no music happening between songs and you, Danny Chavis, are working to maintain that sustained painful nothing-but-feedback squeal for the umpteenth time and a substantial portion of your tiny audience is facing you with their fingers in their ears, it might be time to take the hint: dude, you’re just being a dick. They’re critical darlings, but their live chops and production are far from up to their studio sound — and that’s why they opened.

Fortunately, they opened for a far, far better band:

Read more

Independence Day 2008

I put the flag out this morning, and watched the parade this afternoon. Apparently, Highland Falls has a brass marching band of big guys in black and yellow bowling shirts who do a great ragtime version of “Oh, Susannah,” and the village fire department has a dress uniform (white gloves, brass buttons, brimmed pillbox caps) and a bagpipe player. Who knew?


The neighborhood kids have been having fun with their rockets and mortars (no, not those neighborhood kids) this afternoon, and I’m getting ready to take Zeugma up on the roof with me to watch the village fireworks. (Tink doesn’t like the noise, and will likely open the kitchen cabinet and hide in the large saucepan.) Tomorrow — well, tomorrow promises to be interesting. I’m heading into the city with a friend, and am excited about the trip’s prospects. More soon.

Five Years

The summer has begun, and I’m reading and writing and hoping to get a few things done. Graduation day felt like kind of the cusp, the transition from class time into this other less structured time, but one thing I failed to mention about graduation — one of the nicest things, or, well, the nicest, was being invited by a cadet to his commissioning ceremony, and then being (somewhat surprisedly) asked to say a few words at the ceremony. I don’t know what the word is for the combination between being flummoxed and honored, but that was me, and I hope I did OK. I couldn’t have had anything other than the best things to say about the former cadet and now lieutenant, who’s going to do well and go far, and who I would’ve been grateful to have had as a platoon leader in my days as an NCO: good luck and godspeed, 2LT M.; it was a pleasure and a privilege to work with you, and I hope — know — you’ll stay in touch.

So, after the cusp: with considerable pruning, the grape vine is flourishing beautifully on the pergola — the advice I found about trimming it back by more than half each year was right on the mark — but the birds are already in and picking the tiny berries away. The creepy carnival is back in town this weekend, but they’ve repainted the funhouse with a penguins theme, though the penguins’ lopsided eyes and beak├ęd lipless grins bring to mind nothing more than a Steve Buscemi psychopath. Tink is favoring her luxating patella again, and I wonder if the pain in that bad knee is connected to the incoming thunderstorms that mark June’s transition to ninety-degree weather, but she’s also my queen of feline neurosis; the girl who runs and hides when she hears childrens’ voices outside.

And this blog is five years old. Much more about the cats and the house and such than it was when I started; much less about scholarship and investigating ideas. Much more about the quotidian and the certain; much less about the abstract and the questions.

That feels like a bit of a loss.

A Libelous Display / Blissfully Astray

It’s that day today, one of my favorite days, of budding trees and fecundity, of celebrating work and celebrating play. My lawn is already overgrown, the daffodils in the back yard come and gone with the crocus and bluebells and now the tulips in full bloom, the first sprigs of green on the grape vine.

There are, as you might expect, stirrings among the cadets, as well. Classroom discussions bubble over easily into jokes or teasing or just into that uncontainable energy, and today, I let it go. How could I not? I had an observer in the classroom, evaluating my teaching, and my lesson plan called for small group work in the second half of class, and the groups got loud and excited and sometimes off-topic — but it’s May! How can you not let that energy go?

It’s May, the lusty month of May
That darling month when everyone throws self-control away
It’s time to do a wretched thing or two
And try to make each precious day one you’ll always rue

It was a good class, however blissfully astray we might have gone.

It was also my morning at the shelter for the week, and the cats are as wound up as the cadets, full of impulsiveness and energy, fat and noisy Clark making the rounds of the room for the first time and falling into the tub, little megasophagus Willie climbing up top to bat at cross-eyed Laverne, and Sean and Joey and Ben performing their alpha-male drama on the reduced stage of the counter by the sink with no one else paying attention.

It’s May. It’s May.

And Tink and Zeugma are five years old today.